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Kids’ Crafting Conundrums: How safe are your art supplies?

Time spent making crafts and playing with toys is a large part of childhood. But how safe are the craft supplies and toys that our kids play with every day?

Angelika Zidek has been looking into the chemical safety of products meant for children for almost 15 years. As Senior Manager for the Assessment Methodology Division of Health Canada, she is passionate about ensuring chemical regulations are in place to protect the health of children.

“Children use a wide range of products in the first 10 years of their life, and they use these products differently that an adult would,” says Angelika. “Whereas an adult may use a small dab of glue to fix a broken item, children might use a significantly larger amount and get it all over their hands while they’re at it. This changes how much their little bodies are exposed and might change the chemical risks associated with the use of these products, especially when compared to adults.”

An additional challenge is knowing when a harmful chemical is present at unsafe levels in a craft product or a toy. Manufactured products often don’t come with a list of ingredients and it’s sometimes difficult to determine what is in the product to know what to test for.

Although manufacturers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the products they sell are safe, researchers also conduct tests on random products found on store shelves to make sure they respect any restrictions. When they find problems, they issue recalls for the targeted products.

“In 2013, several countries came together to discuss children’s exposure to chemicals and consider where we needed to focus our efforts,” says Angelika, who represents Canada in her work with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD decided to examine the impacts of exposure to plastic, cloth and foam toys, jewellery, books, and art and school supplies on children, and to develop exposure tools that can now be used by any country looking to estimate children’s exposure to chemicals in crafts and toys.

Closer to home, researchers are gathering much needed information on Canadian children. They are looking to see how often and how much children use products such as slimes, glues and paints, and at what age they start using them. They hope to be able to share the results of the information they are gathering from parents and educators later in 2022.

In the meantime, through Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan, researchers examine chemicals that can be found in consumer products in Canada. In recent years, their work has led to action to better protect Canadians from toxic substances.

For example, Health Canada has warned Canadians about the chemical risk of using products containing boric acid to make slime at home. Some chemicals, including those found in toys and craft materials, were added to the List of Toxic Substances to better manage their presence in everyday products. The Government of Canada has also regulated the use of phthalates and flame retardants in children’s toys and childcare articles following research on exposure to chemicals for children.

Angelika wants to make sure kids are safe while they play and learn. Her efforts have improved chemical regulations on children’s products.

Her overall advice: “Read warning labels on packaging and respect the age recommendations for craft products. Just because something says it’s non toxic, it doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

As a world-leader in chemicals management, Canada is poised to continue examining potentially harmful substances to keep Canadians, big and small, safe and healthy.

Let’s draw attention to the incredible work of women in science! This article is part of a month-long series celebrating women in science, from International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11) to International Women’s Day (March 8).

Additional Resources

Using arts and crafts material safely

Healthy Home

Chemicals and Children’s Health

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